Private Property
Matt Powers · January 11, 2018

Today’s New York Times editorial quoted IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes about a dispute in a Chicago suburb sparked by the city ordering a resident to stop housing homeless people following the recent deep freeze enveloping most of the country.

A man’s home may be his castle, but even castles are governed these days by zoning codes and other local ordinances. An Illinois man named Greg Schiller had that lesson reinforced after he opened his basement to homeless people, letting them sleep there overnight during the recent deep freeze that enveloped much of the country. No way, said city officials in Elgin, the Chicago suburb where he lives. They shut down Mr. Schiller’s “slumber parties,” as he has called them, on grounds that they violated a fistful of municipal regulations, among them ventilation and fire-safety requirements.

Though Elgin provides its own municipally sanctioned facilities, not all homeless people feel comfortable staying there overnight. Due to his work with the homeless at his nonprofit, Matthew 25:40, some chose to stay with Schiller when he opened his doors.

So a fair question would seem to be whether Mr. Schiller’s offer of a place for these people to lay their heads in severe weather outweighs city codes governing full-time shelters.

One person who thinks so is Jeff Rowes, a lawyer at the Institute for Justice, a public-interest firm in Arlington, Va., with a libertarian bent. He has been in touch with Mr. Schiller. “Fundamentally,” Mr. Rowes said, “you have a right to rescue people unless there’s evidence you’ll do more harm than good.” He called it “the right to be a good Samaritan.”

Since the dispute made headlines, Schiller dropped plans to sue the city after talking with officials about alternative solutions for housing the homeless on cold nights.

Read the entire editorial.